Tuesday is election day! Go vote!

Yes, it’s election day! I’ve been so busy that I completely missed the early voting window myself, so I’ll be in line with everybody else tomorrow. Well, probably not in line, the municipal primaries aren’t exactly the biggest draw…

Here’s a table with the endorsements of several local groups; you get to pick three council members and one mayor. Have fun!

durham.io Indy Week Durham People’s Alliance Durham Committee Friends of Durham
Mayor Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell
At Large Council Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel
At Large Council Robert T Stephens Jillian Johnson Jillian Johnson Ricky Hart Ricky Hart
At Large Council Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Mike Shiflett Mike Shiflett

To replace my earlier pick of Azar (who didn’t make the cut) I’ve given the nod to Stephens. I feel like he’s a strong proponent of improving infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

And now for a brief program note: you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been scarce lately. This isn’t for lack of desire to keep posting or anything! I’ve been incredibly busy with other projects. A lot of that is wrapping up and I do hope to even out my posting schedule a bit going forward.

The 2015 municipal primary early voting is open! Here are the endorsements!

I, um, meant to have this out a while ago, but life kind of caught up with me. You’ve got until Saturday to early vote – go get to it, you guys!

Quick background: Durham’s elections are heavily influenced by three local PACs. The most liberal PAC is The Durham People’s Alliance. The Durham Committee is the African American PAC. The most moderate PAC is the Friends of Durham, which tends to place a slightly greater emphasis on business development.

I include Indy Week in the list below because the publication is omnipresent, and it’s one of the few media outlets that even bothers with local politics. The PACs all do community outreach, but casual observers or newcomers are far more likely to grab the Indy while waiting for a latte than they are to seek out the endorsements of local activists.

durham.io Indy Week Durham People’s Alliance Durham Committee Friends of Durham
Mayor Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell
At Large Council  Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel
At Large Council  Philip Azar Jillian Johnson Jillian Johnson Ricky Hart Ricky Hart
At Large Council Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Mike Shiflett Mike Shiflett

Yes, this year I have my own endorsement list! Here’s why I chose these people:

  • Mayor Bell. I chose Bell because, as usual, he doesn’t have any real competition. I have some problems with Bell’s debbie downer attitude towards bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but he’s the mayor we’re going to have (I mean, he’s even pre-announced that he’ll retire after serving the term he’s still running for).
  • Steve Schewel. He’s got a proven track record, and he has been quick to respond to concerns. He wrote a really good response following the Huerta incident, and he was supportive of seeking a compromise in the Club Blvd redesign. He lists sidewalks and bike lanes as priorities on his web site.
  • Charlie Reece. He wants to reduce enforcement of pot offences. Well… he used to anyway (it looks like he updated his site to remove any pot-specific language, but he still talks about reduced enforcement for minor offences generally). Minus points for no mention of bicycle infrastructure. Plus a lot of points for his adorable, color matched family. In case it disappears forever from the Internet, here’s what Reece’s site used to say about weed:

The Durham Police Department spends far too much time, energy, resources and money charging people with low-level marijuana offenses. These criminal charges clog our courts, they disproportionately impact young people of color in Durham, and they do very little to make Durham safer. If I am elected, I will work to make misdemeanor marijuana offenses the police department’s lowest level enforcement priority, and to refocus more resources on making the people of Durham safer from violent crime.

  • Philip Azar. He’s got an emphasis on bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and he’s been active in neighborhood groups.

This year, everybody is talking about affordable housing and the police. Understandable concerns. But not everybody is talking about transportation, and they need to be. Affordable housing is useless if you can’t actually get to where you need to go from it. With the huge influx of new housing there will be a lot of people who need to move around town, and we need to make it possible for them to do so more efficiently.

Hey guys, the students are back!

Despite the fact that it happens every single year, the return of the students always catches me off guard. NC Central classes started today, while Duke students are moving in this week with classes starting nex Monday the 24th.

The students are obviously huge for businesses around campus, but they also ramp up the wait times at restaurants and make everything just feel a bit more hectic around downtown. You might want to go ahead and make some reservations if you’re thinking of eating out this weekend.

Tonight is national night out

If you live in one of Durham’s neighborhoods, you might want to know that tonight is national night out. The annual event encourages cooperation between residents and police, and as usual Durham and the DPD are participating. So if you spot the popo on your block tonight, there’s probably nothing to be worried about.

Recently there has, of course, been some anti-police rhetoric in Durham (and, you know, a lot of places) but in my experience these events tend to be fairly positive. You can probably expect a council member or the mayor to swing by, in addition to DPD officers and Durham County Sheriff’s deputies.

The Eno Quarry claims another victim

The Quarry, located in the Eno River State Park, has had a history of drownings. Another young man lost his life there yesterday.

I’m posting this as a bit of a PSA: the Quarry is only for people who really know how to swim. It’s a good 15 minute walk from your car, there are no life guards, there’s basically nowhere here you can touch the bottom. Depending on how you enter, you might have to swim a good ways to even get a handhold to climb out.

The Quarry has become more popular than ever, and it’s kind of becoming the de-facto recommended swimming hole for newcomers, which I find a bit troubling because it is not for everybody. With its rise in popularity more incidents like this are likely to happen. I love the Quarry, but if you want to go, make sure you are prepared. Even if you are a strong swimmer, you might want to keep a flotation device ready just in case you have trouble.

If you aren’t absolutely certain of your swimming abilities, but want to take a dip, there are other options which are easier to handle.

Free parking

I was about to write about parking, but Kevin beat me to it.

tl;dr: people are still worried about the loss of free parking in the city lot on Ninth Street. There’s also an upcoming parking apocalypse downtown which may require charging for street parking there and increasing deck fees.

If those Ninth Street business owners want to take on the cost of the lot and make it free, I have no qualms about that. That’s on them – they can pay the price. But I feel pretty strongly that the city shouldn’t be subsidising a lot there (or pretty much anywhere).

Laying down a ton of surface parking (at the tax payer’s dime, no less) destroys cities. Encouraging people to drive everywhere creates traffic nightmares, and all of the wasted space makes cities feel like desolate wastelands. I’ve got a record you should listen to about that. We need to find better ways for people to get where they’re going.

If this town wants to hande the increased density that all of those new condos and apartments hint at, the idea of ample free surface parking needs to get out of people’s heads.

Durham launches Open Durham (no relation to Open Durham)

Well, now there are two things named Open Durham.

The new kid on the block is a web site which houses all sorts of data about the city. You data nerds out there go have fun with this, I’m sure that you can find all kinds of interesting trends. Like, check out this crime map for example. It seems like it could be a pretty useful tool.

A lot of you probably already know of the original Open Durham, created by Gary Kueber as a followup to Endagered Durham as a facility to document the history of the city’s architecture.

The city better get on that SEO to optimize its brand and avoid consumer confusion. Gary’s site pre-dates the new service by several years, so he’s got quite a head start. I guess there’s room in the world for multiple open Durhams, just be careful in your googling to make sure you find the one you actually want.

New Belgium’s “Tour de Fat” hits Durham this weekend

Tour de Fat is another weird one. Not, like, Beaver Queen Pageant weird, but it’s up there.

New Belgium (which is a brewery that is mostly in the business of making beer) operates a travelling show which is about bicycles (and also, of course, about New Belgium beer). The event is located in and around the DBAP, with various activities for all ages thereabouts.

The show itself is free, but if you’re so inclined you can cough up some cash to help support local non-profits.

Another white bicycle

There was yet another hit-and-run collision which resulted in the death of a cyclist this past weekend.

The suspect collided with the cyclist, Isidro Razo, early Sunday morning on Angier Avenue. The suspect then left Razo to die in a ditch, and Razo’s body was discovered several hours later.

WRAL has posted surveilance video that may show the suspect driving erratically after the collision. The last official word from the DPD, however, is that they are looking for a dark colored SUV (which would be a different vehicle than the one shown at WRAL).

Adam Haile wrote to the Durham bike and pedestrian mailing list with the following note:

By national averages, a town our size should expect a cyclist death once every two years.  This morning’s fatality makes four in a year.

I have not directly researched that statistic but I find it plausible. It appears to be very dangerous to ride a bicycle in Durham.

The city seems to be incapable of or unwilling to respond to these safety concerns. There have been a few bike lanes added over the past several years, but almost all of them were funded by the DoT (which was resurfacing or restriping the roads anyway; this allowed simple lane adjustments without the city having to spend any money of its own).

The 15-501 “road diet” (which now seems likely to be approved, at least) is such a project. I’m glad that project is happening; I’m disappointed that the city doesn’t make projects like it happen.

Vehicles should not be required for safe travel, but in Durham they sure seem to be.

Let’s go on a road diet

There are some roads in Durham which are just plain harrowing, for no good reason.

One such road is Duke Street, which recently killed a 14 year old boy who was trying to cross it. Erik Landfried wrote a guest column in the N&O about the tragedy, which I encourage you to read.

City roads should not be optimized for maximum vehicular speed at the expense of the safety of other users. This mentality leads to things like Duke St. and Gregson St., designed to function as high volume, one way roads that slice through city neighborhoods and practically invite motorists to race through them as quickly as possible. It also creates bizarre solutions like the downtown loop, which reworked city streets into a veritable moat of concrete.

It’s time to abandon this sort of thinking. Cities are places where people live, and city roads need to serve the people who live near them – not just people driving through them. It’s not worth periodically killing people on these roads to slightly increase traffic volume.

One of the most effective ways to fix overbuilt city roads is something called a “road diet” – that is, reducing the number of vehicular travel lanes and reallocating that space for other uses (often bike lanes, sidewalks, on street parking, and other streetscape improvements).

There’s a happy confluence of events that may make such a project possible sooner rather than later on business 15-501, as the DoT is planning to resurface the road next year. The current configuration of the road is especially nonsensical, with five vehicular travel lanes, no sidewalks, and no bike lanes.

Why is the road so large? Who knows? It has never needed to support that kind of volume. Residents of nearby areas have been frustrated by the lack of walkability, and the current configuration does no favors for businesses either (retail and restaurants typically see boosts in sales when roadways are made more friendly to pedestrians). Foster’s outdoor seating, for example, would be a lot nicer without vehicles barrelling by just a few feet away from the dining area.

There’s a meeting about the potential business 15-501 reconfiguration project tonight at 6:30. You might want to check it out.

Also: there’s currently a bill in the Senate which would require the direct approval of the Board of Transportation for any such projects on state roads. It’s unclear why the Senator who proposed the change feels it is needed, but it would make “road diets” more difficult to implement should it become law.